‘…there’s a tendency to panic, particularly on terrorism and liberty, that causes the government to forget the bigger picture and drop principle…’
It’s sad that as I wrote that Blair should stay on (albeit for purely tactical reasons) yesterday, I felt a need to qualify support in the face of continued threats to civil liberties. But what’s tragic is that an 82-year-old who joined the Labour Party in 1948 was that day thrown out of conference for heckling (he was unconvinced by Jack Straw’s claims on democracy in Iraq). More importantly he was ‘issued with a section 44 stop and search form under the Terrorism Act’ (whatever that might be).
It’s not always wrong to throw hecklers out of meetings, but the response needs to be proportionate. A group’s a right to meet productively has to be balanced against others’ rights to protest and disrupt. On occasion it’s right to remove people from the scene and, but for that reference the Terrorism Act, it might have been possible to put this incident down to over zealous bouncers. Hecklers can be removed, if need be, for the relatively minor offence of being disorderly.
By invoking the Terrorism Act, the police illustrated a propensity to reach for the big guns. They proved that they cannot be trusted to use their new powers responsibly and that the government’s response to terrorism includes ill thought out panic measures that pose very real threats to our civil liberties.